How to decide to have children (or not)
“Our society is largely pronatalist whereby the unspoken expectation is that we grow up and have children. End of story,” said Daniell.
“This leaves little room for ambivalence on the topic which can lead to anxiety and pressure.”
This pressure seems to compound with age, with increasing awareness of the ‘biological clock’ for those who want to conceive naturally.
These opposing pressures can put women between a rock and a hard place. They know it isn’t the right time for children emotionally or financially, but are also painfully aware that time is ‘running out’.
Many women grapple with the understandable fear of regretting their decision or losing their identity and freedom. Some may even have a misplaced sense of shame about their uncertainty, assuming that everyone else knows what they want and that something is ‘wrong’ with them for needing more time or support to decide.
Daniell uses a gentle, exploratory method to help clients explore whether parenthood is right for them. She first validates and normalises their feelings of uncertainty, while reminding them that nobody else can choose for them. She encourages them to embrace their indecision and doubt.
“If we can make room for feelings such as ambivalence, uncertainty, and indecision, it gives space for us to work through the choice rather than feeling stuck and paralysed,” she said.
From here, Daniell supports her clients to set aside the pressure of making a decision, instead reflecting on their desires and values.
Writing down all their fears and hopes regarding children can be a confronting but valuable place to start.
“We then start to work through the client’s reproductive story,” said Daniell.
This involves exploring their relationship with their own parents and extended family, the parenting styles they were exposed to, and the verbal and non-verbal messages they received about parenting and gender norms.
Depending on what this process uncovers, Daniell sometimes recommends clients immerse themselves in hypothetical scenarios to explore further their feelings about having children.
“Make the decision to have and raise a baby. Live with this decision for a week. Really embrace this decision, and each day reflect on and write down how this feels,” she said.
“Make the decision to be child-free. Live with this decision for a week. Really embrace this decision, and each day reflect on and write down how this feels.”
Writing down your reflections is particularly helpful as it engages the left, analytical side of the brain, freeing up the right, creative, emotional side to explore and wander.
“This process can guide us towards confronting difficult or inhibited emotions, helps us process difficult events, connect the dots and create a coherent narrative about our experiences,” said Daniell.